For the past three years Oklahoma State wrestling coach Joe Seay hasn't had to search for motivation much beyond the walls of his own bathroom. Written on the Scroll Above the Bowl is a comment by Kathy Gable, the wife of Iowa coach Dan Gable. After Seay coached a U.S. team to a tie on points with the favored Soviets in the 1986 World Cup competition, he remembers Kathy Gable telling him, "You did a good job here, but you'll never beat Iowa and Dan." Seay wrote those words down. "I stuck it on the wall above the toilet," said Seay last Saturday. "My response to her was 'Never's a long time.' I guess 'never' is today."
On Saturday, Oklahoma State beat Iowa—and everybody else—at the NCAA championships at the Myriad Convention Center in Oklahoma City. The Cowboys, led by two individual champions, Kendall Cross at 126 pounds and Chris Barnes at 177, out-pointed runner-up Arizona State, the defending champ, 91.25-70.50. Iowa State was third with 63 and had the meet's outstanding wrestler in Tim Krieger, who won the 150-pound class with three pins and two shutouts. As for Iowa, its sixth place was the Hawkeyes' worst finish in 13 years under Gable.
Oklahoma State, the only team that had qualified a wrestler in all 10 weight classes, began the tournament as a slight favorite. But the front-runner's role was a mixed blessing; the word in Stillwater was that Seay might lose his job, after five years at State, if the Cowboys didn't win the team title. Such is the grueling pressure that a coach must contend with at Oklahoma State, whose teams had won 27 NCAA wrestling titles, though none since 1971.
The Cowboys had entered the tournament in both 1984 and '88 as the top-seeded team. They finished second and fourth, respectively, to cement their reputation for being star-crossed. But this time Oklahoma State had a star, Cross, who showed how the luck of the Cow-pokes had changed. Cross is a campus heartthrob with soulful eyes beneath which dark, raccoonlike circles grow when he is cutting weight. He is also blessed with such stunning flexibility that his teammates call him Gumby.
In his quarterfinal match Friday afternoon with Jason Kelber of Nebraska, Cross trailed 8-7 with time running out. "I thought I was beaten," Cross said. "I thought he would stay on my legs and ride it out." With four seconds left, referee Gary Smith penalized Kelber a point for stalling. Cross won 3-2 in the overtime period, giving the Cowboys an important emotional lift.
That night in the semis, Cross met Tom Brands of Iowa. Brands had tattooed Cross in a dual meet earlier this season, a 19-9 major decision in which Brands took Cross down nine times. This time Cross scored one point for an escape at the beginning of the second period and then repeatedly used a hip lock to thwart Brands's takedown attempts. As the match ended, 1-0, the frustrated Brands shoved Cross in the back. Cross went down but tucked into a somersault and came up waving to the dejected Hawkeye fans. Iowa would have no wrestler in the finals for the first time since 1974.
By the time Cross took the mat for his final bout, the Cowboys had already won the team crown. Oklahoma State was the only school with six All-Americas, a designation bestowed on wrestlers finishing among the top eight in each weight class. The Cowboy honor roll, in addition to juniors Cross and Barnes, included senior Mike Farrell (third at 167 pounds) and freshmen Chuck Barbee (fifth, 134), Todd Chesbro (fifth, 150) and Kirk Mammen (sixth, heavyweight). In the 126-pound finals Cross beat Michael Stokes of North Carolina State 5-2. Barnes handed Brad Lloyd of Lock Haven his first defeat of the season. Their bout ended in a 2-2 tie, and Barnes was awarded the victory by scoring the only takedown in the overtime.
"When I came to Oklahoma State, I wanted to win the title because that's what's in me, to be the best." Seay said afterward. "I wanted to win this one for the alumni and boosters because they're all friends of mine now." Flushed with victory, Seay can go home to Stillwater and hang a big W over the WC.
Cross (on top), known as Gumby for his flexibility, beat Stokes in the 126-pound final.
Seay drew inspiration from a Hawkeye remark.